I was very excited to visit Cairo and to see the wonders of ancient Egypt. My first impression of Egypt is that I would never want to drive here. Nope, never.
The thing about driving in Cairo, is you have to understand the recommendations. The dashed white lane-lines are recommendations. Use them in any way you feel like, or not. Turn signals. Recommendations. Headlights. Recommendations. Yes, even at night and when going the wrong way down a one-way street. Stops and yields. Recommendations. In fact, stopping or yielding will probably get you honked at. And that brings me to horns.
I am convinced that Egyptians built the pyramids and invented the horn. They love their horns. If you’re a taxi driver and you see someone walking across the road? Toot, toot. See someone walking alone the road? Toot, toot. Tying their shoe? Toot, toot. You never know who might need a taxi. Just pulled up to stopped traffic? Toot. Hear someone toot their horn? Toot. Notice that there is daylight between the cars stopped in front of you? Toot. It’s Eid al-Fitr, the three-day holiday following a month-long fast? Toot, toot, toot, toot, toot, toot…
Someone’s about to pull out in front of you? Toot. About to cut someone off? Toot. Squeezing an extra lane out of the road? Toot. See someone walking hurriedly across the road? Toot. See a police officer, dressed in his white uniform with his pistol dangling from his belt, strolling across the road? Slow down.
Commerce is another thing that is interesting here. Shops are clustered together by merchandise. Where I stayed was in the heart of the security camera district. Shop after shop selling security cameras. A little way over was the computer district. Shop after shop selling computers and computer sundries, whole or parted out. There is the sunglasses district, too. Not much of a camera district, though. Might be that the smart phones district has taken over.
And everywhere, everyone is trying to sell you something. Anything. In the nicest possible way. One man pointed out every beverage in the glass-doored refrigerated case of a small market, and then invited me to his shop next door. Thank goodness her was there to point out the water, and the Pepsi, and the Coke, and the… One of the favorites, is to ask “where you from?” Doesn’t matter what you answer. “Oh, the Moon. My cousin lives on the Moon. Come to my shop. I give you my card.” Honestly, it’s a bit too much for me.
So, I booked a tour of the sights in Giza, Saqqara, and Memphis, hoping the guide would keep the peddlers at bay. She did not. But she gave us some advice: “Politely decline and don’t accept anything from them, even if they say it’s a gift.” Hmm. Thanks. Still, I paid $30 for a day-tour with guide and driver. There was only one other person in the group: a doctor from India here on business.
If you’re prepared to just walk around, you can Uber/Taxi to the pyramids for less than $4. Giza, by the way, is just across the Nile from Cairo. But for me, and my tendonitis, the driver alone was worth the price.
The tour guide was nice and knowledgeable, to be sure. She had followed in her father’s footsteps. He’s been a tour guide for 43 years, and encouraged her to take it up. I realized half way through the day, that the tour guides are certified by the government tourism office, which also licenses the various official souvenir shops. For example, included in the tour was a visit to the National Papyrus Museum (aka, 2 minutes of how papyrus is made and 43 minutes of ‘you want to buy a souvenir?’). I did not buy any papyrus, but fortunately the Indian doctor bought 2, and I was allowed to leave. He also bought a silver pendant with a lady’s name written in hieroglyphics. He was cagy about who the lady was.
So, what did I see? The pyramids, temple, and Sphinx at Giza. About $8 gets you access to the site, which is walkable. Or you can hire a camel or carriage to carry you around. For about the same amount again as the ticket, you can go inside the pyramid. A robber’s tunnel takes the adventurous to one of the chambers inside the pyramid, then you turn around and come back out. There was a long line to enter the Great Pyramid (built for king Khufu (2589-2566 BCE)), but the other two pyramids had no lines at all. You make the call.
After the Giza plateau, it was off for the jewelry and papyrus, followed by a quick drive to Saqqara to see the earlier and later pyramids.
The Step Pyramid at Saqqara—the natural evolution of the Mastabas—was the first pyramid built. I guess the aliens were just lazy with this one. The Step Pyramid was built during the reign of the Pharaoh Djoser (c. 2670 BCE) and marks the beginning of the ‘Age of Pyramids’ (according to the sign at the Cairo Museum).
Mastabas, by the way, are rectangular burial mounds sloping sides and a flat top about 20 feet high. Underneath the Mastaba is the burial chamber. Djoser and his builder Imhotep just stacked Mastabas one on top of the other.
The next Pharaoh built what we would recognize as a ‘real’ pyramid. But it was the ‘Bent Pyramid.’ They started building the pyramid too steep (55 degrees) and it they had to bend it over half way up (43 degrees). Silly freakin’ aliens. Oh, did I mention that aliens built the pyramids? Commonly known fact. But don’t mention it to the Egyptians. Thank goodness the aliens got their act together for the pyramids on the Giza Plateau (about 80 years after the Step Pyramid), but then got lazy again. The later pyramids are made from much smaller stones, which have eroded on the leaving pyramids that look more like hills than, well, pyramids. The interiors still hold solid stone, though.
Oh, here’s a fun fact. Aliens built 138 pyramids in Egypt! But in Sudan they built as many as 250! You’re welcome.
Can’t tell you much about Memphis. Not much to see at the site of the first capital, and I was too worn out to bother. So back to Cairo and a large bottle of water.
My impression of the pyramids is that they are incredible feats of building. The blocks of stone are not as big as Hollywood would have you believe. Big, yes. But the ones at ground level are about 4 feet tall, and they get smaller as they go up. Also, the pyramids are not surround by endless sand like in the movies. The Giza plateau is rocky and rises and falls considerably. Finally, I was surprised that we could walk right up to them, and even climb on them. Just not too high. Seems some crazy person climbed up and started throwing things down on to the people below. So, you can climb a few levels up and then you will be told to get down.
Overall, I’m only sorry I didn’t also visit Luxor and Alexandria.